Joe Byrnes got a heartfelt send off from the Forest Park Village Council both during its April 24 meeting, the last full-fledged meeting with him as a village commissioner, and the May 8 meeting, which marked the changing of the guard as elected and reelected commissioners got sworn in.
While Byrnes spent the last eight years as a village commissioner, his public service in Forest Park goes back much further. He joined the Forest Park Police Department in 1974, working his way up to Deputy Chief before retiring in 1999. He went on to serve as a Park District of Forest Park commissioner from 2001 to 2007. Byrnes decided not to run for reelection to the village council in 2023, telling the Review in November 2022 that he was frustrated with the village government and was ready to move on.
During the May 8 meeting, the village council presented Byrnes with a resolution honoring his decades of service. Village commissioners and Mayor Rory Hoskins praised Byrnes for his collegiality, hard work and volunteerism. Byrnes previously emphasized that he would keep volunteering, and the elected officials said they were looking forward to his continued service to the community.
The May 8 resolution credited Byrnes with helping secure state and federal funding for several projects, specifically mentioning the demolition of the abandoned buildings on the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim property, rebuilding sections of Roosevelt Road and Madison Street, and buying street cameras and license plate readers. It lauded him for helping steer the village through the COVID-19 pandemic, mentioning his work in helping secure personal protective equipment for village employees, setting up vaccination sites and being “instrumental in keeping the village within its fiscal means, encouraging conservative spending” during the mitigation restrictions.
The resolution also touched on his service in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 to 1973, his time on the police force and his work on the park board.
“He was instrumental in rebuilding the soccer field, adding a spray park to the Aquatic Center and renovating the baseball fields,” it stated.
Finally, the resolution touted his volunteering at various Chamber of Commerce, park district and St. Bernardine school and church events.
“The mayor and village council, for its members and all the residents of the Village of Forest Park, extend to Commissioner Byrnes sincere gratitude for his professional, dedicated and productive service to the Village of Forest Park and congratulates him upon his departure from public office and wish Joe and his wife Sandy and their children; Tom and Heather many years of health and happiness,” it states. “The Village of Forest Park appreciates his contributions to the community.”
During the April 24 meeting, Byrnes thanked the voters who elected him. He also thanked the department heads and rank-and-file employees that worked for the village over the years, saying they proved their mettle during the COVID-19 pandemic and described the staff as “second to none.”
“I just want to thank you, and good luck in the future,” he said. Adding that, with ”4/5ths of this council coming back, and Michelle [Melin-Rogovin] is going to be active on it, and I think we’re going to do well here.”
Hoskins recalled that he first met Byrnes in 2006, when he was appointed to the advisory Traffic and Safety Committee.
“I guess I’d say that Commissioner Byrnes taught me how to grab the attention of people,” he said. “When they ignored me, Commissioner Byrnes would put a little bass in his voice. I kind of caught on to the trick, so thank you for the trick, and some of the other tricks, Commissioner Byrnes.”
Commissioner Ryan Nero, who first took office in 2019, described Byrnes as a mentor and a friend.
“Thank you, Joe, for your years of leadership, and your guidance, and your friendship,” he said. “I know I speak for everyone when I say — thank you for your service, sir.”
Commissioner Jessica Voogd, who was first elected the same year as Nero, echoed his sentiment.
“Ryan said it best — we really appreciate your guidance and friendship, and you will be missed,” she said.
While Nero is usually the commissioner who makes the motion to adjourn the council meetings, for the April 24 meeting, he deferred to Byrnes.
On May 8, the old council convened long enough to approve the past meeting minutes and the bills before ending the meeting to clear the way for the swearing-in – with Byrnes, once again, making the motion.
The department heads invited Byrnes to sit at their table, and he took the seat usually occupied by Health & Safety Director Steve Glinke.
Maria Maxham, who was appointed to succeed him as the Commissioner of Accounts & Finance said later in the meeting, “Just. … thank you for everything you’ve done. I know you’ll continue to be an important part of Forest Park, as you have always been.”